“It’s been a very strong [start to the season], but it could be better,” says current IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Helio Castroneves as he reflects back on the first two races of the 2013 season.
He may be referring to a mistake in the season opening race that cost him valuable points and wondering how differently things may have shaken out.
As Castroneves locked his brakes and slid for the slightest moment on a late-race restart, James Hinchcliffe made his way by. Castroneves was never able to remount a challenge for the lead as Hinchcliffe took off with 10 additional championship points in hand.
Last year, the championship was decided by a scant three points. As a two-time Series runner-up, Castroneves is very aware that points paid at St. Petersburg count every bit as much toward the championship as those paid at Fontana, and one tiny mistake has already cost him a handful of them.
Castroneves entered his 16th season in top-level American open-wheel racing as a perennial favorite to win week in and week out. With a new engineer and several new crew members, the fast starts and podium finishes have been particularly satisfying. Still, it’s a long season, and to be in the best position to finally claim his first season championship Castroneves and his Team Penske crew must simply continue doing what they’ve done thus far — putting themselves into position to win races.
Over the next several races, he’ll be joined by a new teammate, former Champ Car winner AJ Allmendinger. Castroneves was immediately impressed by both Allmendinger’s demeanor and talents out of the gate, calling the veteran of six NASCAR seasons “hilarious … humbled and grateful.” Castroneves was particularly impressed that Allmendinger was able to qualify in the top 1o at Barber Motorsports Park after having only three test sessions to get acquainted with a car that is substantially different from the last open-wheel car he drove. “Just because you’re working with [Team Penske],” Castroneves quipped, “doesn’t mean you go out there and [qualify in the top ten].”
One of the races where Allmendinger will join Castroneves and Verizon Team Penske teammate Will Power is the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May, a race in which Castroneves is anxious to succeed. Castroneves will, of course, be shooting for his fourth victory at the Brickyard along with Target Chip Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti, marking the first time since 1987 that a pair of three-time winners will be among the field aiming for history.
This will be Castroneves’s fourth attempt to join the legendary four-time winners club, and he thinks his Chevrolet power gives him a strong advantage.
“I hope the Series doesn’t change the rules like they did last year,” said Castroneves, alluding to INDYCAR’s decision to allow modifications to the single turbochargers used by Honda teams that many onlookers felt negated the early-season advantage Chevrolet had enjoyed.
Without such controversy this year, the history-chasing storyline will add another level of intrigue and mystic to the entire Month of May and be very exciting for fans to follow.
An area where Castroneves thinks advantages could be found is in the introduction of aero kits, a controversial topic that has divided fans, team owners, and INDYCAR officials since their introduction was officially delayed nearly two years ago. With the field so incredibly competitive this year and every fraction of a second being critical, he feels aero kits would bring even more intrigue to the series.
“People want to see the teams’ homework paying off,” he says of the ability to bring another level of engineering effort back to the mix.
Castroneves also sees aero kits as an opportunity to push the Series as a technological leader as both Chevrolet and Honda would be able to use the research and development as a way to better the performance of their road cars.
Helio Castroneves spoke recently with More Front Wing on many more topics, including his run-in with Ryan Hunter-Reay at Barber Motorsports Park, the sturdiness of the DW12 versus the previous generation of IndyCar, his views on the new generation of drivers making waves this season, and much more. To hear the interview in its entirety, tune in to the More Front Wing podcast, which will be posted tomorrow morning. Find us on iTunes or right here at morefrontwing.com.